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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAll's For The Best - Chapter II. IS HE A CHRISTIAN?
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All's For The Best - Chapter II. IS HE A CHRISTIAN? Post by :sedan55 Category :Long Stories Author :T. S. Arthur Date :February 2011 Read :1478

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All's For The Best - Chapter II. IS HE A CHRISTIAN?

"_IS he a Christian?"

The question reached my ear as I sat conversing with a friend, and I
paused in the sentence I was uttering, to note the answer.

"Oh, yes; he is a Christian," was replied.

"I am rejoiced to hear you say so. I was not aware of it before,"
said the other.

"Yes; he has passed from death unto life. Last week, in the joy of
his new birth, he united himself to the church, and is now in
fellowship with the saints."

"What a blessed change!"

"Blessed, indeed. Another soul saved; another added to the great
company of those who have washed their robes, and made them white in
the blood of the Lamb. There is joy in heaven on his account."

"Of whom are they speaking?" I asked, turning to my friend.

"Of Fletcher Gray, I believe," was replied.

"Few men stood more in need of Christian graces," said I. "If he is,
indeed, numbered with the saints, there is cause for rejoicing."

"By their fruits ye shall know them," responded my friend. "I will
believe his claim to the title of Christian, when I see the fruit in
good living. If he have truly passed from death unto life, as they
say, he will work the works of righteousness. A sweet fountain will
not send forth bitter waters."

My friend but expressed my own sentiments in this, and all like
cases. I have learned to put small trust in "profession;" to look
past the Sunday and prayer-meeting piety of people, and to estimate
religious quality by the standard of the Apostle James. There must
be genuine love of the neighbor, before there can be a love of God;
for neighborly love is the ground in which that higher and purer
love takes root. It is all in vain to talk of love as a mere ideal
thing. Love is an active principle, and, according to its quality,
works. If the love be heavenly, it will show itself in good deeds to
the neighbor; but, if infernal, in acts of selfishness that
disregard the neighbor.

"I will observe this Mr. Gray," said I, as I walked homeward from
the company, "and see whether the report touching him be true. If he
is, indeed, a 'Christian,' as they affirm, the Christian graces of
meekness and charity will blossom in his life, and make all the air
around him fragrant."

Opportunity soon came. Fletcher Gray was a store-keeper, and his
life in the world was, consequently, open to the observation of all
men. He was likewise a husband and a father. His relations were,
therefore, of a character to give, daily, a test of his true
quality.

It was only the day after, that I happened to meet Mr. Gray under
circumstances favorable to observation. He came into the store of a
merchant with whom I was transacting some business, and asked the
price of certain goods in the market. I moved aside, and watched him
narrowly. There was a marked change in the expression of his
countenance and in the tones of his voice. The former had a sober,
almost solemn expression; the latter was subdued, even to
plaintiveness. But, in a little while, these peculiarities gradually
disappeared, and the aforetime Mr. Gray stood there
unchanged--unchanged, not only in appearance, but in character.
There was nothing of the "yea, yea," and "nay, nay," spirit in his
bargain-making, but an eager, wordy effort to gain an advantage in
trade. I noticed that, in the face of an asservation that only five
per cent. over cost was asked for a certain article, he still
endeavored to procure it at a lower figure than was named by the
seller, and finally crowded him down to the exact cost, knowing as
he did, that the merchant had a large stock on hand, and could not
well afford to hold it over.

"He's a sharper!" said the merchant, turning towards me as Gray left
the store.

"He's a Christian, they say," was my quiet remark.

"A Christian!"

"Yes; don't you know that he has become religious, and joined the
church?"

"You're joking!"

"Not a word of it. Didn't you observe his subdued, meek aspect, when
he came in?"

"Why, yes; now that you refer to it, I do remember a certain
peculiarity about him. Become pious! Joined the church! Well, I'm
sorry!"

"For what?"

"Sorry for the injury he will do to a good cause. The religion that
makes a man a better husband, father, man of business, lawyer,
doctor, or preacher, I reverence, for it is genuine, as the lives of
those who accept it do testify. But your hypocritical pretenders I
scorn and execrate."

"It is, perhaps, almost too strong language, this, as applied to Mr.
Gray," said I.

"What is a hypocrite?" asked the merchant.

"A man who puts on the semblance of Christian virtues which he does
not possess."

"And that is what Mr. Gray does when he assumes to be religious. A
true Christian is just. Was he just to me when he crowded me down in
the price of my goods, and robbed me of a living profit, in order
that he might secure a double gain? I think not. There is not even
the live and let live principle in that. No--no, sir. If he has
joined the church, my word for it, there is a black sheep in the
fold; or, I might say, without abuse of language, a wolf therein
disguised in sheep's clothing."

"Give the man time," said I. "Old habits of life are strong, you
know. In a little while, I trust that he will see clearer, and
regulate his life from perceptions of higher truths."

"I thought his heart was changed," answered the merchant, with some
irony in his tones. "That he had been made a new creature."

I did not care to discuss that point with him, and so merely
answered,

"The beginnings of spiritual life are as the beginnings of natural
life. The babe is born in feebleness, and we must wait through the
periods of infancy, childhood and youth, before we can have the
strong man ready for the burden and heat of the day, or full-armed
for the battle. If Mr. Gray is in the first effort to lead a
Christian life, that is something. He will grow wiser and better in
time, I hope."

"There is vast room for improvement," said the merchant. "In my eyes
he is, at this time, only a hypocritical pretender. I hope, for the
sake of the world and the church both, that his new associates will
make something better out of him."

I went away, pretty much of the merchant's opinion. My next meeting
with Mr. Gray was in the shop of a mechanic to whom he had sold a
bill of goods some months previously. He had called to collect a
portion of the amount which remained unpaid. The mechanic was not
ready for him.

"I am sorry, Mr. Gray" he began, with some hesitation of manner.

"Sorry for what?" sharply interrupted Mr. Gray.

"Sorry that I have not the money to settle your bill. I have been
disappointed----"

"I don't want that old story. You promised to be ready for me
to-day, didn't you?" And Mr. Gray knit his brows, and looked angry
and imperative.

"Yes, I promised. But----"

"Then keep your promise. No man has a right to break his word.
Promises are sacred things, and should be kept religiously."

"If my customers had kept their promises to me there would have been
no failure in mine to you," answered the poor mechanic.

"It is of no use to plead other men's failings in justification of
your own. You said the bill should be settled to-day, and I
calculated upon it. Now, of all things in the world, I hate
trifling. I shall not call again, sir!"

"If you were to call forty times, and I hadn't the money to settle
your account, you would call in vain," said the mechanic, showing
considerable disturbance of mind.

"You needn't add insult to wrong." Mr. Gray's countenance reddened,
and he looked angry.

"If there is insult in the case it is on your part, not mine,"
retorted the mechanic, with more feeling. "I am not a digger of gold
out of the earth, nor a coiner of money. I must be paid for my work
before I can pay the bills I owe. It was not enough that I told you
of the failure of my customers to meet their engagements----"

"You've no business to have such customers," broke in Mr. Gray. "No
right to take my goods and sell them to men who are not honest
enough to pay their bills."

"One of them is your own son," replied the mechanic, goaded beyond
endurance. "His bill is equal to half of yours. I have sent for the
amount a great many times, but still he puts me off with excuses. I
will send it to you next time."

This was thrusting home with a sharp sword, and the vanquished Mr.
Gray retreated from the battle-field, bearing a painful wound.

"That wasn't right in me, I know," said the mechanic, as Gray left
his shop. "I'm sorry, now, that I said it. But he pressed me too
closely. I am but human."

"He is a hard, exacting, money-loving man," was my remark.

"They tell me he has become a Christian," said the mechanic. "Has
got religion--been converted. Is that so?"

"It is commonly reported; but I think common report must be in
error. St. Paul gives patience, forbearance, long-suffering,
meekness, brotherly kindness, and charity as some of the Christian
graces. I do not see them in this man. Therefore, common report must
be in error."

"I have paid him a good many hundreds of dollars since I opened my
shop here," said the mechanic, with the manner of one who felt hurt.
"If I am a poor, hard-working man, I try to be honest. Sometimes I
get a little behind hand, as I am new, because people I work for
don't pay up as they should. It happened twice before when I wasn't
just square with Mr. Gray, and he pressed down very hard upon me,
and talked just as you heard him to-day. He got his money, every
dollar of it; and he will get his money now. I did think, knowing
that he had joined the church and made a profession of religion,
that he would bear a little patiently with me this time. That, as he
had obtained forgiveness, as alleged, of his sins towards heaven, he
would be merciful to his fellow-man. Ah, well! These things make us
very sceptical about the honesty of men who call themselves
religious. My experience with 'professors' has not been very
encouraging. As a general thing I find them quite as greedy for gain
as other men. We outside people of the world get to be very
sharp-sighted. When a man sets himself up to be of better quality
than we, and calls himself by a name significant of heavenly virtue,
we judge him, naturally, by his own standard, and watch him very
closely. If he remain as hard, as selfish, as exacting, and as eager
after money as before, we do not put much faith in his profession,
and are very apt to class him with hypocrites. His praying, and fine
talk about faith, and heavenly love, and being washed from all sin,
excite in us contempt rather than respect. We ask for good works,
and are never satisfied with anything else. By their fruits ye shall
know them."

On the next Sunday I saw Mr. Gray in church. My eyes were on him
when he entered. I noticed that all the lines of his face were drawn
down, and that the whole aspect and bearing of the man were solemn
and devotional. He moved to his place with a slow step, his eyes
cast to the floor. On taking his seat, he leaned his head on the pew
in front of him, and continued for nearly a minute in prayer. During
the services I heard his voice in the singing; and through the
sermon, he maintained the most fixed attention. It was communion
Sabbath; and he remained, after the congregation was dismissed, to
join in the holiest act of worship.

"Can this man be indeed self-deceived?" I asked myself, as I walked
homeward. "Can he really believe that heaven is to be gained by
pious acts alone? That every Sabbath evening he can pitch his tent a
day's march nearer heaven, though all the week he have failed in the
commonest offices of neighborly love?"

It so happened, that I had many opportunities for observing Mr.
Gray, who, after joining the church, became an active worker in some
of the public and prominent charities of the day. He contributed
liberally in many cases, and gave a good deal of time to the
prosecution of benevolent enterprises, in which men of some position
were concerned. But, when I saw him dispute with a poor gardener who
had laid the sods in his yard, about fifty cents, take sixpence off
of a weary strawberry woman, or chaffer with his boot-black over an
extra shilling, I could not think that it was genuine love for his
fellow-men that prompted his ostentatious charities.

In no instance did I find any better estimation of him in business
circles; for his religion did not chasten the ardor of his selfish
love of advantage in trade; nor make him more generous, nor more
inclined to help or befriend the weak and the needy. Twice I saw his
action in the case of unhappy debtors, who had not been successful
in business. In each case, his claim was among the smallest; but he
said more unkind things, and was the hardest to satisfy, of any man
among the creditors. He assumed dishonest intention at the outset,
and made that a plea for the most rigid exaction; covering his own
hard selfishness with offensive cant about mercantile honor,
Christian integrity, and religious observance of business contracts.
He was the only man among all the creditors, who made his church
membership a prominent thing--few of them were even
church-goers--and the only man who did not readily make concessions
to the poor, down-trodden debtors.

"Is he a Christian?" I asked, as I walked home in some depression of
spirits, from the last of these meetings. And I could but answer
No--for to be a Christian is to be Christ-like.

"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." This
is the divine standard. "Ye must be born again," leaves to us no
latitude of interpretation. There must be a death of the old,
natural, selfish loves, and a new birth of spiritual affections. As
a man feels, so will he act. If the affections that rule his heart
be divine affections, he will be a lover of others, and a seeker of
their good. He will not be a hard, harsh, exacting man in natural
things, but kind, forbearing, thoughtful of others, and yielding. In
all his dealings with men, his actions will be governed by the
heavenly laws of justice and judgment. He will regard the good of
his neighbor equally with his own. It is in the world where
Christian graces reveal themselves, if they exist at all. Religion
is not a mere Sunday affair, but the regulator of a man's conduct
among his fellow-men. Unless it does this, it is a false religion,
and he who depends upon it for the enjoyment of heavenly felicities
in the next life, will find himself in miserable error. Heaven
cannot be earned by mere acts of piety, for heaven is the complement
of all divine affections in the human soul; and a man must come into
these--must be born into them--while on earth, or he can never find
an eternal home among the angels of God. Heaven is not gained by
doing, but by living.

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